Saturday 23 December 2017

Anime REVIEW: Infini-T Force

Infini-T Force
Infini-T Force is available in streaming form on Viz Media (US Only)

With superhero crossovers all the rage these days what better way is there for Tatsunoko Production to celebrate their 55th anniversary than with a crossover of four of their most popular 70s superhero shows. The stars of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Hurricane Polymar, Neo Human Casshan and Tekkaman: The Space Knight come together in Infini-T Force – a new completely CGI series co-produced with distinguished Japanese CGI studio Digital Frontier (Appleseed, Resident Evil: Degeneration). The series ran for a total of 12 episodes, which an additional feature film planned for release sometime in 2018.

Ken the EagleHurricane Polymar

17-year-old Emi Kaidou is a seemingly normal girl living in the heart of Shibuya. After her father left without explanation several years ago, Emi has become listless with life and regularly suffers with suicidal thoughts. When Emi comes across the Case – an artefact with the power to grant wishes, she’s targeted by a group of villains who wish to claim its power for their own.

Protecting Emi are Ken “the Eagle” Washio, Hurricane Polymar/Takeshi Yoroi, Tekkaman/Jouji Minami and Casshan/Tetsuya Azuma – heroes from alternate worlds that have been destroyed by the villains’ mysterious leader, Z. Initially Emi wants nothing to do with the heroes or the battle for the Case, but that soon changes when Z is revealed to be her estranged father – Kazumichi Kaidou.

Tekkaman the Space KnightNeo Human Casshan

Perhaps the biggest question going into Infini-T Force is just how it can manage to do justice to four tent-pole Tatsunoko franchises in a mere 12 episodes, all while presenting its own satisfying story as well as being accessible to newcomers unfamiliar with the studio’s glory days. In terms of narrative alone the show is fairly successful at crafting its own (if somewhat predictable) storyline, but unfortunately struggles with the presentation of the heroes themselves. Though the characters themselves may be steeped in the past Infini-T Force has seemingly little time for nostalgia, with very little introduction or back story given to any of its four veterans. Their personalities also differ from that of the original selves, maturing what were once hot-headed and/or angst-driven heroes and turning them into surrogate father figures for the disillusioned Emi. This might come as a disappointment to some, but given the number of reboots and reinterpretations some of them have had over the years this doesn’t come as anything particularly new and anything only further adds to the multi-verse Infini-T Force sets out to create.

Emi KaidouThe heroes' civilian guises

The premise of an all-powerful item falling into the hands of a character who only later learns to fully appreciate life doesn’t ever strike as being all that original, so it’s up to the characters themselves to make the show stand out. The situation with Emi already feels problematic, because even though she isn’t ever portrayed as particularly weak-willed the overall narrative does have an overwhelming sense of “suicidal female only finds value in life after being told by her four male friends”. But that aside Emi isn’t a bad character by any means, even if her initial dismissal of the four heroes and the Case can often be frustrating to watch.

The heroes themselves are far more uneven, with only Ken receiving any sort of significant exposure and development. The portrayal of Ken as as old-fashioned and somewhat sexist doesn’t initially sit very well, but the development of his relationship with Emi is one of the show’s stronger points. The other three all have their moments with each of Z’s henchmen, but all feel fleeting in comparison to the far more prevalent bond between Ken and Emi. It’s strange as the earlier episodes suggest that it’s Takeshi/Polymar that’ll take centre stage, as he’s the one already established as part of Emi’s world (this would have also loosely tied back to the recent live-action Polymar movie released in Japan).

ZDamian Grey

On the opposite end of the conflict, Z makes for a good villain and takes the lengths a parent will go for their child to the very extreme. Despite all the horrific actions Z takes ultimately he does them for a noble (if selfish) cause, and even when confronted by his daughter continues to fight for what he believes in. Infini-T Force does a great job of selling him as a tragic villain, as well as then challenging both his actions and role as a father when confronted by his daugher. Similarly Z’s henchmen also come with their own tragic backstories, which while not being as well fleshed out do enough to establish them as proper characters during their respective episodes. Defying all this however is Damian Gray, who in stark contrast is a monster through and through - giving the show a villain to truly hate as well as ones to feel pity for. With this approach requiring less emotional weight, Damian comes off a lot stronger than his fellow underlings.

But what will undoubtedly be the deciding factor for many when it comes to giving Infini-T Force a shot will be the animation, given the negative stigma still attached to completely CGI anime. While it would certainly be foolish to hold Infini-T Force up to the same standards as the kind of high-budget Western productions one immediately thinks of when they hear “CGI animation”, Digital Frontier are certainly no slouch when it comes to the medium and have a repertoire of visually impressive works. Infini-T Force only adds to this, boasting some excellent character designs (both unique and returning) as well as beautifully choreographed action sequences that serve as the highlight of the whole show. If anything Infini-T Force could be considered as an example of style over substance, as the quality of the visuals are likely to stick with you far longer than any of its narrative elements. It’s only when it comes to the finer points that the show really falters, with simple motions such as waving coming off as jerky and hair clumped together as a solid mass.

Belle LynnRaja Kaan

As an anniversary celebration and nostalgia-driven series Infini-T Force unfortunately fails, but as a standalone series it succeeds in offering some momentary enjoyment through a medium that too often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves when it comes out of Japan. The uneven character characterisation and development some of it implies are unfortunate, but the visuals are impressive enough to keep you interested each episode. Infini-T Force isn’t likely to leave much of a lasting impression, but it breathes new life into some of Tatsunoko’s most iconic heroes which will hopefully continue on in years to come. If able to recognise its shortcomings, then there’s some solid ground to build upon for the sequel movie next year.

No comments: